International Literacy Day - Promoting education worldwide

NEW RELEASES – As the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day approaches, the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Director-General states: “The world has changed since 1966 – but our determination to provide every woman and man with the skills, capacities and opportunities to become everything they wish, in dignity and respect, remains as firm as ever. Literacy is a foundation to build a more sustainable future for all.”1


The 8th of September

According to the UNESCO Resolution of 1958, literacy is defined as the ability to both read and write, with understanding, a simple statement related to one's everyday life. Understood in these terms, literacy is, effectively, a fundamental human right which sets the basis for lifelong learning. Literacy constitutes, moreover, a real foundation for individuals to fully develop as human beings. The use of literacy in everyday life is essential for people to be able to communicate efficiently and exchange knowledge in a constant personal evolvement and educative progress.

As Article 26 § 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recites: “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”2 Thus, literacy and education can improve one’s health, relationship with the world and with the self. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that in a world that relies more and more on advanced technologies, the capability of developing communicative and social skills is essential in nowadays society, dynamic and always evolving.3

50 years ago UNESCO officially proclaimed 8 September International Literacy Day to “actively mobilize the international community and to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities and societies.”4 Now International Literacy Day is celebrated worldwide, bringing together multiple actors that engage with matters regarding literacy and, more widely, education in a constant promotion of the benefits of such skills and capabilities. This year, in particular, focuses on innovation and, accordingly, the banner adopted is: “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.”

Notably, illiteracy affects both adults and children throughout the world and it should not be forgotten that it occurs in poor as well as wealthy countries. For instance, “in the UK 1 in 6 people struggle with literacy.”5 Thus, it’s essential for everyone to accept the fact that illiteracy affects our communities even when it wouldn’t appear so. In order to promote literacy and education to defend these fundamental human rights, the 8th of September marks a fundamental goal that needs to be sustained.

Future challenges

As much as it’s important to look back at what has been done in the past 50 years and even more, it’s time to face the future challenges that the issue of illiteracy is connected to. First of all, this is the first year of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Out of the 17 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), number 4.1 states: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.”6 It’s fundamental, therefore, that International Literacy Day reminds us all of the potential of literacy for many people around the world and acts as a motivator for the global community to reach this aim.

Moreover, the work and initiatives of many NGOs to improve the levels of literacy throughout the world must not be forgotten: for instance, this year, the World Literacy Foundation has created “an innovative campaign that aims to eliminate the digital divide for students in the developing world, and increase student engagement via an exciting digital learning platform.”7

In conclusion, the importance of literacy on the 8th of September should be stressed and promoted, bearing in mind the legacy of 50 years of such an important day of awareness, but also aiming at reaching future goals and constantly making an effort to improve the lives of many illiterate adults and children around the world.


1 UNESCO (2016), “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.” Available at:

2 Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. Available at:

3 UNESCO Education, “Literacy.” Available at:

4 UNESCO (2016), Op.Cit.

5 National Awareness Day (2015), “International Literacy Day.” Available at:

6UNICEF (2015), “Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform.” Available at:

7 World Literacy Foundation (2016), “International Literacy Day.” Available at:



MR - Research Assistant at CIPADH



National Awareness Day (2015), “International Literacy Day.” Available at:

UNESCO (1959), “Records of the General Conference, tenth session, Paris, 1958: Resolutions.” Available at:

UNESCO (2016), “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.” Available at:

UNESCO Education, “Literacy.” Available at:

UNESCO Institute for Statistics, “Education: Literacy Rate”. Available at:

UNICEF (2015), “Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform.” Available at:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. Available at:

World Literacy Foundation (2016), “International Literacy Day.” Available at: